London, May 10 (AFP) Manchester City and Liverpool have slugged it out in one of the most gripping Premier League title races of all time, going toe to toe in a monumental battle for the ages.
But it will all be decided on Sunday when City travel to Brighton and Liverpool host Wolves, with Pep Guardiola’s team firm favourites to get over the line ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s charging team.
The bare statistics from both sides this season are phenomenal.
City, on 95 points, have won their past 13 Premier League matches to wipe out a seven-point lead for Liverpool and are on the brink of becoming the first team to retain the title since Manchester United in 2009.
Klopp’s men, with 94 points, have recovered from a mid-season stumble to record eight straight victories and are agonisingly close to their first English top-flight title since 1990.
The 18-time league winners face the scarcely credible scenario of ending the season with the third-highest points tally in Premier League history and a single defeat yet still missing out on the title.
City look almost certain to finish off the job on the south coast but Guardiola, speaking after a nervy 1-0 win against Leicester on Monday, is taking nothing for granted.
“The players are mature, and we have one more game,” said Guardiola.
“It will be tough in Brighton. They took a result at Arsenal. We played a few weeks ago against them (in the FA Cup semi-final) and it was tough.
“They will play for pride but it’s in our hands. We were seven points behind but we never give up. We are still there and we win 13 games in a row.”
City cannot quite match the record 100 points they mustered last season but they have shown their ability to dig deep in recent weeks. Guardiola’s side have been free-scoring for the majority of the campaign, racking up 91 goals, but three of their past four wins have been 1-0 victories.
A second consecutive title for the club, who remain on course for a historic domestic treble, would underline their status as the dominant force in the English game.
A Vincent Kompany thunderbolt settled the match against Leicester, although that astonishing moment has since been overshadowed by breathtaking Champions League comebacks for Liverpool and Tottenham.
– Champions League –
Klopp will have to re-focus his players’ minds on their clash with Wolves at Anfield after their semi-final heroics against Barcelona as they cling to the hope that City will slip up.
“We will again try to collect the bones and go again against Wolves,” said Klopp, who also has fitness doubts over Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Jordan Henderson and Andy Robertson to deal with.
The Liverpool narrative has changed dramatically since they overturned a 3-0 first-leg deficit against the Spanish champions to reach the Champions League final 4-3 on aggregate on Tuesday.
They now know that even if they fall short they have the chance to become champions of Europe for a sixth time if they can get past Tottenham in Madrid on June 1.
But despite their European adventure, the Anfield faithful are desperate to see their team at the top of the domestic tree again.
“Now I know the atmosphere will be brilliant again and they will need to push us again because it is a difficult game on Sunday,” added Klopp.
“We have to win, which is already difficult enough, and then we will see what happens in the other stadium.” Behind the runaway front two, all the issues in the Premier League are virtually done and dusted.
Barring a spectacular swing in goal difference, Tottenham will finish above Arsenal and mathematically seal the remaining Champions League spot alongside Chelsea, while the highest Manchester United can finish is fifth.
Wolves, in seventh place, cannot be caught and will earn a Europa League spot provided Watford do not beat City in the FA Cup final.
At the bottom of the table, Huddersfield, Fulham and Cardiff are already preparing for life in the second-tier Championship.